Vincent Gardner, winner of the 2014 Downbeat "Rising Star" Critic's Poll for Trombone (and 2014 Downbeat "Rising Star" Critic's Poll Nominee for Male Vocalist) is a musician and composer born in Chicago, Illinois. As a bandleader, Gardner has released five albums under the SteepleChase record label. His latest release, The Good Book: Chapter III--The Book of Bebop was nominated by the Independent Music Awards for Jazz Album of the Year. He performs with his own groups frequently, in addition to being the lead trombonist for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (which also features Wynton Marsalis). Gardner also performs often with his brother, trumpeter Derrick Gardner, and his ensemble, the Jazz Prophets.
Born into a musical family in which both his father, Burgess Gardner (a trumpeter who has played with many groups including Ray Charles, Count Basie, and Horace Silver), and his mother, a pianist and choir director, are both music educators, Gardner was surrounded by music at an early age. The family moved to East Lansing, Michigan when Gardner was five, while his mother and father completed their doctorate studies at Michigan University, later settling in Hampton, Virginia. Because of his mother's occupation as a church musician, he was often at church for services and choir rehearsals and began singing in the choir as soon as he was of age, which provided him with his earliest musical experiences.
As a beginning musician, Gardner started with the violin, but soon switched to saxophone and French horn. Around age 13, since his father and brother both played trumpet, he decided to play trombone. He developed an interest in jazz around the 11th grade after being selected to play in the Hampton All-City Jazz Ensemble, where the director introduced him to jazz trombonist J.J. Johnson.
By the time he graduated from high school, he had made up his mind to pursue a career as a professional musician and attended Florida A&M University, studying classical trombone and Music Education. In 1995 he transferred to the University of North Florida, and in 1996 he obtained an undergraduate degree in jazz trombone performance. He then moved to Brooklyn, New York to pursue his musical career, subsequently performing with several notable ensembles and musicians, including the Count Basie Orchestra, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Illinois Jacquet, the Saturday Night Live Band, Matchbox 20, Clark Terry, Jimmy Heath, and Frank Foster. From 1998 through 2000, Gardner toured with Lauryn Hill in support of her five-time Grammy Award-winning album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Later in 2000 Gardner joined the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, with which he continues to perform.
Over the course of his affiliation with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, he has contributed many arrangements and commissioned works for various performances of that ensemble. In 2009 he was commissioned by Jazz at Lincoln Center to compose a work entitled The Jesse B. Semple Suite, which featured his original compositions intertwined with the short stories of author Langston Hughes featuring his character Jesse B. Semple. In the 2011-12 season of Jazz at Lincoln Center, Gardner was the musical director for the critically acclaimed program Bird with Strings, which featured Charles McPherson and Wessell "Warmdaddy" Anderson on alto saxophones. In 2013 Gardner was appointed director of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Youth Orchestra and actively engages in working with young musicians internationally as part of that initiative.